Building in formative assessment

In the wake of high-stakes testing culture, education researchers have come to promote assessment practices that emphasize formative evaluation. Unlike a summative assessment, which measures student performance at the end of a course or a unit, a formative assessment helps you and your students take stock of achievements in the midst of instruction. Rather than aiming solely to quantify performance, formative evaluations can help you gauge students’ strengths and challenges, recalibrate instruction, offer feedback midstream, and invite students to check their own progress. As Gregory Cizek et al. put it in The Handbook of Formative Assessment in the Disciplines, “[f]ormative assessment provides information that teachers can use to focus or redirect instruction; it also provides information that students can use to assess their own and each other’s learning.”

Student persistence leader Vincent Tinto has argued that increasing our use of formative assessment in the classroom can help us better support students through graduation. (Of course, summative assessment remains important, and should grow out of formative activities.) Here are a few ways to add formative evaluation to your course:

Ask students to explain what they learned, note what confused them, or record lingering questions at the end of class. I also like to ask students to explain how their understanding of course content changed over the course of a class. You could give feedback on one-minute papers in class or on Brightspace, or you could choose two or three examples that represent general strengths and areas for improvement to share with the class. One-minute papers allow you to check for understanding and plan your next session.

  • Invite students to evaluate their own drafts using your rubric.

If students prepare a draft of a high-stakes assignment, give them the opportunity to evaluate it using your rubric for grading. Read through the self-evaluations and talk as a class about the categories students might struggle to rate accurately. Check out Yale’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning for tips on creating rubrics.

Give students a chance to practice and receive feedback on ideas central to a big project before they begin. Then, students can incorporate your feedback as they work. In addition, students can practice a form used to secure funding in their field.

  • Hold individual conferences with students.

Students may be more comfortable asking questions or checking in with you one-on-one. Swap class-time for conference time and come up with a structure for each meeting. You can give students a sense of their progress, give them a chance to clarify problems, and set individualized goals for improvement. After talking with you once, students might be more likely to come to office hours.

  • Use Brightspace to record audio or video feedback on short-answer questions.

Students can turn in assessments on Brightspace and receive feedback in written, audio, or video form. This tool also works well for collecting and speaking back to students about informal work. Ask students to answer a question or to analyze a scenario, and then record a response to their submission. Students have reported that they find oral feedback more helpful than written. To ensure students view what I’ve recorded, I make time in class.

We support students by supporting faculty

The following focus areas were developed through the examination of AAC&U’s High Impact Practices together with the mission of the Teaching, Learning and Technology Center. Click on each button to see projects we are working on, what we are reading in these spaces, and examples on our own campus.

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